Wednesday, 23 November 2011

To buy or not to buy: the Canon Powershot SX40 HS Digital Camera

Canon Powershot SX40 HS Digital Camera, technical details, reviews
The bridge camera (compact) digital Canon SX40 with 35x zoom is very much on my mind right now, and I am highly tempted to buy it. Although a non-SLR, for it's price, it's very attractive when I consider the price of an equivalent zoom lens for a digital SLR. Of course it could never capture the quality and clarity images of a SLR but when I weigh up the pros and cons, it's all the more tempting. Firstly there is the zoom range-at 35x there are very few other compact cameras that can boast this range, although the clarity of images when used at full range are apparently not great according to most of the reviews I've read. Even so, the weight of carrying around a zoom lens of equivalent range for a SLR is not attractive. Then there are the frames per second capabilites-this camera is capable of 10 or so-an impressive number. I want something that is not going to take a lot of time to set-up, as fellow birders will know, sometimes you only have a matter of seconds to capture that bird in that postion. Many a good photo opportunity has been missed by not having the camera ready at 'that moment'.

Canon SX40
I can see that carrying this camera will be easy and make it readily available to catch those precious times as they happen, especially with a good and comfortable neck strap.  It is also capable of capturing HD videos and boasts a number of other impressive features, however I am mainly attracted to it for it's portability and zoom range.

Fuji Finepix S800fd
My current compact camera, a Fuji Digital Camera FinePix S8100fd has a zoom range of 18x (4.7mm to 84.2mm range -equivalent to a 35mm lens with a 27mm to 486mm zoom)which was great for a compact when I bought it. I've found though that there's not much point having a long zoom range when the photos taken at maximum range are grainy with too much noise, as they are on the Fuji.

photo of a Whistling Kite shot at full zoom range on the Fuji....
The major problem I have with it, and hence my wanting to replace it, is the autofocus (AF).  It was fine when I first bought it, but lately it more often than not focuses on a small patch of background rather than the bird I am trying to photograph, however looking through the EVF it appears to have focused on the target. It is not until I am looking at the images on computer at home later that I see this problem. As I avoid using the lcd display in the field as it drains the batteries very quickly, it's only after the opportunity is lost later on at home that I see the problem. I try to avoid having to use the spare batteries on the same day as a general rule too, but even when I have used the lcd display to check whilst in the field, it's often still too late to reshoot the same shot. It may very well be the fault of the light or my own through the use of the wrong settings, or alternatively it could be happening as a result of being dropped or knocked that one time too often.  Perhaps it's just getting too 'old'....

 Here's 2 examples of a shot that could have been good had the autofocus worked the way it should have:

example 1
As you can see, the focus is on the foliage directly behind the bird. Through the EVF however, the AF appeared to lock onto the centre of the shot, ie: the bird-and by the time the shot was taken and I'd reloaded to shoot another, the bird had -typically- flew away. This is where image stabilisation can also a crucial factor, which the CanonSX40 has in an improved mode to what the Fuji has. Slight camera shake when the shoot button is depressed on the Fuji has also caused the AF to focus slightly above the locked-in image of the bird shown through the EVF. Thus an otherwise good shot was ruined.

example 2
 I had spent a fair bit of time crouched down in long grass getting attacked by mosquitos and trying not to scratch to get that first shot too! I made sure to wear a little bit of insect repellent the next time, but wasn't lucky enough to capture the bird in a spot where s/he wasn't concealed by the foliage. Another reason the 10 frames per second on the Canon  SX40 would come in handy...
 Maybe these images aren't the best one to demonstrate my complaints, but given that I have already deleted the shots that perfectly demonstrated them, these were the closest I could find.

So, it comes down now to deciding whether or not to buy the CanonSX40 now, or wait until it's been out longer and the price (around $500-700 currently) has come down, like, for example, after Christmas. I also feel guilty thinking about buying something expensive for myself before Christmas with most of the kid's presents still needing to be bought.....hhhmmm...
After more careful research and many hours reading review after review, I finally decided on a bridge camera that surpasses the Canon SX40 in capabilites and image quality at full zoom, for a fraction of the price: the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ48
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ48

All the reviews I read were consistently glowing, but I have to admit what really sold me were the impressive results from the zoom lens, for example, one reviewer wrote: 

"It is extremely difficult to fault the quality of the captured image at all zoom levels, with vibrant, realistic colours and sharp detail characteristics throughout our test results." 
You only have to look at the example they included in the pic above, where the top image is the detail captured using the zoom lens at it's maximum range of 32x while the bottom image is shot at actual range, to see the amazing sharpness this camera is capable of.  In comparison, all the reviews I read stated that the Canon sx40 lost a lot of sharpness and clarity when used at full zoom range. As the large zoom lens was my main reason for buying the Canon,  given the superiority in quality of the Panasonic's zoom (Leica) lens and it's much cheaper price tag, I was easily persuaded!
Naturally I also searched for the best price too, and managed to find a site where it was a third of the RRP.
  Now I will be anxiously waiting at the mailbox for it's arrival, and with a bit more luck, I could be shooting some great photos this weekend! 
Update Monday 28th Nov 2011: received an email today stating the camera will be sent in the next 24 hours...

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